Chinese put a spring in Printemps' footstep

Updated: 2015-04-24 07:31

By Tuo Yannan(China Daily Europe)

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Time-strapped tourists find there is more to Paris than the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre

When Paolo de Cesare arrives at work in Paris every morning the first thing he does is head for the balcony outside his office to count how many luxury cars are lined up at the VIP entrance at the back of Printemps department store and how many Chinese customers are getting out of them.

Printemps is as much a part of the French capital as the Eiffel Tower. In fact it opened 24 years earlier, in 1865, and celebrated its 150th anniversary last month. However, something that is new to the store are the throngs of Chinese customers and the cash windfall they are delivering to it each day with their spending.

Chinese put a spring in Printemps' footstep

In the past six or seven years, Chinese have become Printemps' top customers among tourists. Photos provided to China Daily

Chinese put a spring in Printemps' footstep

Printemps is as much a part of the French capital as the Eiffel Tower.

"It's very interesting to see how shopping has changed around the world over the past 30 or 40 years," says De Cesare, the chief executive officer of Printemps SAS.

"In the 1970s we had American shoppers, in the 1980s and 1990s it was Japanese, in the early 2000s it was Russians, and in the past six or seven years it is Chinese who have become Printemps' top customers among tourists.

The shop says that overseas visitors account for 20 percent of its customers, and Chinese account for more than half of those. Last year, De Cesare says, the biggest customer purchase was made not by a Russian or an Arabian, as used to be the case, but by a Chinese woman. De Cesare does not say how much she spent, but that it was "a very, very big purchase".

Printemps used to pitch its wares largely to a home audience, but about seven years after the Italian Cesare took the reins it has changed direction and now puts much greater emphasis on international shoppers, particularly Chinese.

De Cesare says he has worked with Asian countries for many years - between 1999 and 2002 he was general manager and president of the cosmetics division of Procter & Gamble in Japan and believes the burgeoning Chinese middle class will deliver a rich cash flow to European retailers, many of whom have struggled in the continent's financial malaise.

For example, he says, European boutique stores usually feel a lull in business early in the year, after the Christmas shopping rush, but he sees Chinese shoppers as filling that breach as they travel to Europe during the Chinese New Year holiday period.

Chinese put a spring in Printemps' footstep

To that end, in recent years the store has put a great deal of effort into celebrating Chinese New Year. This year, a dragon dance was performed in front of the department store with Miss France Camile Cerf on hand to welcome customers.

"We also celebrate Russian New Year, but not on this scale," De Cesare says. "No one can compete with the size of the Chinese New Year celebrations."

Seven or eight years ago Printemps engaged Chinese marketing people for the first time, something De Cesare reckons was a first in France for a big department store.

These days when you walk into the store during the Spring Festival period, the decorations and signs in Chinese are hard to miss.

"We are working hard to attract more Chinese customers this year," De Cesare says. "It will be one of our most important tasks of the year."

A report by the Chinese luxury industry researcher China Fortune Character says Chinese were the biggest buyers of luxury goods worldwide last year, accounting for 46 percent of sales, valued at $106 billion. Seventy-six percent of the Chinese purchases were made outside China, the report says.

With Chinese customers uppermost in mind, Printemps opened a store inside the Louvre 15 months ago, a shop the newspaper Le Monde called "a new temple of Parisian luxury".

"That was the first Printemps store we have opened in the past 32 years," De Cesare says.

"We are well aware that almost all Chinese tourists in Paris go to the Louvre, and we know they have little time to do everything. We thought it would be incredibly convenient for them to have the store inside the entrance of the world's preeminent museum."

Over the past seven years, De Cesare says, he has seen a huge change in what Chinese customers are looking for.

"They are now a lot more sophisticated in luxury than they used to be. They now want things that consist of more than just a well-known logo. Many of them used to buy handbags such as those made by Gucci, Prada or Louis Vuitton. They have now discovered other French brands, and in doing so have become a very important customer in this category."

( China Daily European Weekly 04/24/2015 page19)